Soaking Wood Chips: How Long And When To Do It

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Wood chips are an amazing flavor tool when it comes to using a smoker. But when you want to soak your wood chips, how long should you soak them? 

In this TheGrillingDad.com guide we will cover:

  • Whether or not you should soak wood chips before using them
  •   How long to soak wood chips
  •   And much more!
a pile of dry wood chips

How Long Should You Soak Wood Chips?

Many people prefer to soak wood chips before they use them in their smoker. While we don’t recommend soaking your wood chips in water, there are many delicious substances, such as whiskey, that you can soak your wood chips in prior to smoking in order to enhance the flavors of your meat. 

Generally, how long you need to soak wood chips in a liquid before they are ready to go will depend on the size of your wood chips.

Smaller wood chips that are less than the size of a quarter need about 1 to 8 hours to soak. Larger wood chips should be left to soak for 24 hours.

It is a bad idea, in most cases, to soak wood chips for longer than 24 hours, but the time may vary depending on the device you are using to smoke your meats. Read on to learn more about how long you should smoke your wood chips.

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Do You Soak Wood Chips Before Using Them?

Whether or not you should soak your wood chips prior to using them in a smoker generally depends on personal preference. Some master smokers swear by the slower burn that results from using wet wood chips.

It is a common misconception that using wet wood chips in your smoker causes more smoke. This is not true. Using wet wood chips causes more steam in your smoker, which is not always a good thing. 

The steam which results from wet wood chips may be removing moisture from your meat and carrying parts of the flavor away–which is why it smells so good when you smoke using wet wood chips. While this flavor being carried away may be minute, many people on the opposite end of the spectrum refuse to soak wood chips unless in special cases.

These special cases could include soaking your wood chips in whiskey before using them to make a whiskey salmon or a special cut of brisket. Many people also choose to soak their wood chips in apple juice to help enhance the flavor of a cut of pork. 

Let’s take a look at whether or not you should soak your wood chips and how long you should let them soak in these beverages (or water if you are part of that crowd) depending on the device you are using to smoke your meats.

fact about electric smokers and adding wood chips

Do You Soak Wood Chips for an Electric Smoker?

You are welcome to soak wood chips in water or other beverages for your electric smoker as you please, and it shouldn’t affect the operation of the unit. 

How Long to Soak Wood Chips for an Electric Smoker?

When soaking wood chips for your electric smoker, you don’t need to soak them very long. For those being soaked in water, most professionals recommend soaking them for just 30 minutes to one hour prior to use. 

For nicer liquids, such as apple juice, wine, or whiskey, it is recommended you soak these for 5 hours to allow them to absorb as much flavor as possible. 

Do You Soak Soak Wood Chips for a Charcoal Smoker?

There are a couple of different types of charcoal smokers on the market, some of which have a box for you to add the wood chips to, and others in which the wood chips must be placed directly on the charcoal.

In the cases where the wood chips must be placed directly on the charcoal, it is not recommended to soak your wood chips as you will need to add them after the fire is already  going. Adding wet wood chips at this time will dampen the fire and may cause it to go out, disrupting the cooking continuity of your meat. 

How Long to Soak Wood Chips for a Charcoal Smoker?

If you have the type with a box for the wood chips, then you can soak your wood chips if you would like. Generally, 2-4 hours is enough time to soak your wood chips for use with your charcoal smoker. 

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Do You Soak Wood Chips for a Propane Smoker?

Soaking wood chips for a propane smoker is very similar to soaking them for an electric smoker. Because the wood chips will be placed on a tray before cooking, it is safe to soak your wood chips before using them in a propane smoker.

How Long to Soak Wood Chips for a Propane Smoker?

Because a propane smoker is similar to an electric smoker, you will want to soak your wood chips for a similar amount of time, from 30 minutes to 1 hour prior to putting in your smoker. If you are soaking them in something besides water, then you may need to allow 5 hours for all the flavor to be soaked up by the wood chips. 

Do You Soak Wood Chips for an Offset Smoker?

When using an offset smoker you have the option of using charcoal or wood chips in most cases. If you think you would like to soak your wood chips, it’s important that you use a mix of charcoal and soaked wood chips because just using soaked wood chips alone may render your offset smoker unable to hold a consistent temperature.

Because meats are cooked slightly off the smoke in an offset smoker, it can already be difficult to maintain the heat anyway, and soaking your wood chips just makes it harder, therefore it is not advised.

But, if you are using a mixture of wood chips and charcoal then you can soak your wood chips if you would like, however, you run into the same problem as above with the charcoal girl–you need to add wet wood chips to an already established charcoal fire which can be dangerous and cause the temperature to fluctuate. 

How Long to Soak Wood Chips for an Offset Smoker

We recommend skipping the water-soaked wood chips in this case as it just isn’t worth it. But if you really want to soak some wood chips in a chardonnay before smoking fish, only soak them for about 2-3 hours, and it is recommended that you pre-dry them in the oven a bit to get them to light easier. 

Should You Soak Wood Pellets?

Maybe you have a pellet smoker and you are here because you were wondering if you could soak them in a nice whiskey before putting them in your pellet smoker.

Do not do this. 

Never soak your wood pellets in liquid of any form.

Soaking wood pellets in water ruins them as they will expand and become unusable in any type of smoker. You additionally need to go through extra steps to keep your wood pellets dry while you are storing them. 

It is also worth mentioning that you can never use wood chips in a smoker designed for pellets. This is because the wood chips are larger than the pellets and could jam the augur. 

If you have a pellet grill, you will need to take extra care to purchase the flavors of wood perfect for your meats because you will not be able to change over to wood chips or adjust the flavor of your wood pellets using beverages. 

Final Thoughts on How Long to Soak Wood Chips

Overall, whether or not you decide to soak your wood chips in water before you use them is up to you. We at TheGrillingDad recommend you save yourself the time and simply use dry wood chips unless you have a special idea in mind.

If you want to experiment by soaking your wood chips in apple juice, whiskey, or wine, then feel free to do so as long as you have an electric or propane smoker. Plan to soak these wood chips for just a couple of hours at most, unless they are quite large then you can leave them for 24 hours. 

No matter what creation you make when you soak your wood chips, you are sure to enjoy the delicious flavor, just be sure to follow our tips for the best results, and never store wet wood chips. 

Hope Davis

Hope Davis

Born in Denver, Colorado as the oldest of 5 children, I learned at a young age that the grill was one of the best ways to prepare food for a crowd. And during the winter storm months, when the snow was likely to knock out the power to our house, the propane grill was a lifesaver! You wouldn’t believe the number of things you can cook on a grill when necessary. With parents who couldn’t tell salt from pepper unless you told them, I spent my late teen years making my own seasoning mixes and marinades to dress the meat before barbecues. It wasn’t long before I developed a secret marinade that people still beg me to make for them today! When I was 21 years old I bought my first smoker. Picked up some cedar chips for making a cedar plank salmon...and well, the rest they say is history! I’ve been grilling and smoking all kinds of creations ever since and I’m always excited to share my passion with others through my favorite medium--writing!

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